The parent consent responsibility for babies before parental or adoption is obtained by intended parents appears to be almost unknown by medical pediatric staff.
Parental responsibility (PR) regarding consent for babies before a parental or adoption order is obtained by the intended parents appears to be poorly understood by pediatric medical staff.
Surrogate pregnancies are becoming more common in the UK and several other countries, even though surrogacy is banned in many countries and bioethicists and different organizations that defend women’s and children’s rights have condemned it as a practice that objectifies both persons. Nevertheless, the legalization of this process is becoming increasingly common worldwide, one such notorious case being the legalization and promotion of surrogacy carried out by the American state of New York (read HERE).
In places where surrogacy is prohibited under current legislation, legal gaps remain, with the result that reproduction by this means, frequently aboard, is practiced with impunity. This lack of congruence has even led to the UK institution that regulates assisted production to facilitate the shipment of gametes abroad for that purpose, recognizing the contracts made in England (read HERE). Consequently, surrogacy is an expanding business for fertility clinics, law firms specialized in these types of reproductive contracts, travel agencies, etc.
This set of circumstances demands a particular medical and bioethical analysis of the different steps of this practice. One of these is the parental responsibility regarding consent for babies before a parental or adoption order is obtained by the intended parents (at least 6 weeks after the birth). In this respect, an interesting survey of pediatric medical staff conducted to establish knowledge regarding consent was recently published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) (January 21, 2021).
Legal and bioethical approach
From a bioethical, legal and common-sense point of view, the issue appears to be clear: the surrogate mother has parental responsibility. UK law says that all responsibility for the child belongs to the woman who gives birth to him or her. In most cases, surrogate pregnancies are regulated by a previous commercial contract between the intended parents and the surrogate mother; while this always defends the intended parent rights exclusively, it is not legally enforceable. To this, we must add that the surrogate mother is often unaware of her own rights. Pediatric staff requires consent for any medical intervention in the newborn. Accordingly, knowledge of pediatricians in this area is a key issue. This was the rationale behind the particular medical and humanitarian interest of the aforementioned study, based on a survey to determine the knowledge of pediatric medical staff regarding consent for a baby.
Surrogate mother responsibility and other rights are ignored by contracts and unknown by medical staff
The study showed that “[…] 19% of the 47 respondents answered all scenarios correctly. 43% of respondents knew that the surrogate mother had parental responsibility (PR) in all scenarios; however 13% incorrectly assumed that either intended parent always had PR.”
The authors concluded their Introduction with this statement: “Babies under 6 weeks old may require medical interventions for which consent is necessary, leading to legal and ethical conundrums for healthcare professionals. Formal guidance for healthcare professionals is minimal, and we postulated that issues surrounding consent are poorly understood by pediatric medical staff.”
Our concern about parents consent rights in the English Health system
We have referred to the scant knowledge of pediatric staff in the English health system regarding the rights of the parents of hospitalized children in several articles, even one in which a judicial sentence calls attention to this issue (read HERE).